August 24, 2017 (San Diego) A quarterback not standing for the National Anthem. Track and field runners standing with their fists up in Mexico City. A boxer refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. What separates them are decades. But the passage of the years has not weakened their message. It is a social and economic justice message. Black lives matter, and we as a society need to deal with it. Systemic discrimination matters, and affects people of color, across the years.
Statues of long gone dead generals (at least one did not want them to begin with) fit in all this. When Kaepernick took a knee and he became a symbol of peaceful resistance to a system that oppresses blacks, he joined Muhammad Ali, who refused to serve in Vietnam, and John Carlos, Peter Norman and Tommie Smith at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. The key word here is resistance.
The last thing Americans want to see is sports becoming political, we are told. We are in a deeply divided country and sports are the last refuge of civility. At least this is what we like to pretend. However, sports have always been a front in this battle to define what we are.
Jackie Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 was a political act. At the time there were threats of boycotts. Why? Black players did not belong anywhere but the Negro League, maybe. That is what many fans believed. Robinson took jeers, and worst. He played the game and he knew the responsibility on his shoulders.
His was a political message given by his mere presence on the field. It was a message from him, and from the team owners, White and northern.
Why is the National Football League black balling Kaepernick? For the same exact reason the Track and field stars of ’68 were censured. It is the same reason Ali almost lost his career. The idea that politics is separate from sports is balderdash. Men who stand for civil and economic rights of a repressed community make Americans very uncomfortable. This is not new.
The refrain that they are paid to play, and just play, translates to don’t make me think, just entertain me. The league considers this man a free agent. But the truth is that no team wants him, since he is now seen as a troublemaker. Yet more players, from the Búfalo Bills, took a knee yesterday. And to complicate matters, in the highly charged environment we live in, one was white. It should not matter, but it does.
The owners are doing this not because the fan base wants nothing to do with politics. However, some do. They are doing this because in our society men of color have no right to a political view. They make us uncomfortable. While white Christian men can spike a ball and wear their faith on their sleeve. Let’s fully disabuse ourselves of this. Sports has always been political. It is a reflection of society. We might want to pretend otherwise, but these men, acting as men, make many fans uncomfortable.
Others are applauding since they understand the importance of that platform. There will be boycotts, and in a country becoming more brown and black, this might hit the league in the pocketbook. The National Association For the Advancement of Colored People, Atlanta chapter, call for a boycott might be the beginning.